Posts Tagged ‘California’

Life in a Prison Classroom

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Pre-Release Classrooms are the Future of Prison Reform_Where Excuses Go to DieI know life in a prison classroom, and the learning environment you may or may not find once you’ve taken a seat.

A brief click-through of “5 Projects to Watch in 2016” from Correctional News leaves me wondering how much prison officials really know about the obstacles inmates face just getting through a detention facility’s classroom door. What does it matter, you ask? Well, in an era where words like “reform,” “rehabilitation,” and “recidivism” are on everyone’s lips, it’s important to know when a component as critical as education is simply being given lip service.

Correctional News covers prison operations, design, and construction. It celebrates grand openings and groundbreakings because imminent completion dates tend to matter to rubber mattress merchants, vendors of detection products, and shower flooring suppliers.

Currently showcased are the East County Detention Center near Palm Springs, for example, which is set to open in 2017, the Kern County justice facility in Bakersfield, and the new Utah State Prison, among others. California being where I paid my debt to society, I tend to monitor its prison system more closely than I do others. But all of these entries have something in common, and that’s my point: they feature anemic descriptions of the education facilities also under construction. Rehabilitation-as-footnote here, will eventually make corrections administrators and state officials look as though they’re simply hanging wreaths of rehabilitation on freshly painted classroom doors and leaving it at that. (more…)

Capitalizing on Inmate Firefighters

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Image_washingtonpostThere’s no excuse for inmate firefighters becoming pawns of prison reform.

Inmate firefighters: it’s an odd term, isn’t it? “Firefighter” is a badge of honor, while “inmate” is a brand. Yet these particular convicted criminals are routinely sent on 16-mile marches to square off with raging wildfires for 24 hours at a time, carrying the mark of offenders while performing duties as honorable as they come. For about $2 an hour.

These men (and women) are typically housed in a more congenial, campus-like setting. They eat better than their counterparts who are still behind prison walls, and they’re addressed more cordially by both frontline custody personnel and the civilian training staffers who oversee their participation in California’s esteemed Conservation Camp program.

Most of these folks were convicted of non-violent crimes. But violent offenders have also swung picks and wielded shovels for the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (CalFire) for decades, and a proposal to expand their participation was recently submitted by California corrections officials. Good thing it was withdrawn almost as soon as it was made public, as the plan could have been a disaster.

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Obama’s Prison Visit

Friday, July 17th, 2015

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GOES THE PRESIDENT_Where Excuses Go to DieNever mind that President Obama’s prison visit was a public relations handshake event on par with a disaster relief stop by:
I’ll take it. 

The man did, after all, pull off a first-ever presidential prison tour without a GOP push-back accusing him of somehow assisting Mexican druglord ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s recent escape. With adversaries like Obama’s, it’s a downright miracle he hasn’t been vilified for cozying up to his convict martyr buddies. (more…)

Trump to Produce Prison TV?

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

YOU'RE ISOLATED_Where Excuses Go to DieC’mon, don’t tell me
Trump couldn’t sell
“Naked and Afraid: Lockdown”
or
“Teardrops ‘n Tuckjobs.”

The first of Donald Trump’s programs this convicted felon would DVR is the inevitable cell house chef show, which would feature some of my personal favorites like Brodo Libero Linguine with Cilantro and Walnut Sweepings (a.k.a. Top Ramen drained of its powdery broth-water and sprinkled with “green,” plus a bag of Corn Nuts). Ooh, then there’s Dill-infused Retired Sashimi and Chocolat Petits Fours (canned tuna on toothpicks with yesterday’s pickle slices, and the other half of that 3 Musketeers bar). Many inmates pride themselves on concocting this fine “corridor cuisine,” especially long-termer foodies who use bunk-side braising and contraband meats to keep themselves from making a suicide dash for the electric fence.

Iron Chef: Shackles & Shortbread. Trump could make millions exploiting this untapped goldmine.

And who better? Riding a widening blast radius from publicly acknowledging the existence of a few good Mexicans among the Satanic death horde of sodomites and cartel assassins, Donald Trump has again demonstrated just how disconnected he is from the current national dialogue on criminal justice reform. Explaining to the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board what he’d do about that city’s street crime, he led off with, “You’re not going to stop it by being nice.” Hence The Donald’s strategy of praising lockdown absolutism and shortsightedness despite the successful passage of sentencing reform in 35 states.

Because prison reform appeals to fiscal conservatives as much as social cause lefties, alternatives to “more prison” are on the table everywhere front-line custody personnel collect a paycheck. Across the country, Americans are finding value in redirecting criminal offenders rather than recycling them. (more…)

Confessions of a Texas Taunter

Monday, April 6th, 2015

TEXAS HATE LINEFor years I’ve sworn my epitaph will read, “…and he never set foot in Texas.”

  • Texas is one of the worst states to be either a child or an old person.
  • Its high school dropout rate makes the Alamo look like the Iwo Jima flag raising.
  • It seems fitting that this Lone Star of illiteracy is represented by a belt-buckle.
  • Gun-loving Texas is ranked last in the country in mental health spending and worst in health services, hospital care, and access to health insurance.
  • Its big #1 in carbon emissions and hazardous waste production is justified with claims of “per-resident emissions.”
  • Texans nearly top the list of most careless, worst drivers in America, but Houston scored 2014’s “Least Courteous” award. #guns
  • What’s not big in Texas? Voter turnoutcivic involvement, and political participation.

It’s a bit nitpicky to add that the average credit score in Texas has been the lowest in the country, because quality of life issues and countrified comedy gold are consequential, not illustrative. So instead, I’ll choose the one thing I’ve most openly mocked Texans for over the years – defending their vulgar bravado with “Don’t judge us ’til you hang with us.” (more…)

Crass Incarceration

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Eligibility for a second chance begins with being taken seriously.

Crass
• adjective: lacking in discrimination and sensibility, blundering, asinine

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?__Where Excuses Go to DieOkay, here it is: the mentally ill in California prisons are far more likely to be subjected to harsher treatment and longer sentencing than other inmates. That’s a criminal lack of discrimination and sensibility. Of all the inmates who occupy facilities up and down the state, roughly 30% are mentally ill, making the California Department of Corrections a de facto mental health treatment provider. Now there’s your blundering and asinine.

According to the Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, “The average sentence imposed on defendants suffering from mental illness is longer than the average sentence imposed on defendants who do not have mental health diagnosis but who committed the same crime.”

Shane Bauer of Mother Jones claims there are ten times more mentally ill people behind bars than in state hospitals, and many of those inmates have severe illnesses like schizophrenia. Furthermore, solitary confinement can make it harder or even impossible for the untreated mentally ill to re-enter society. Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU National Prison Project says “it’s a risk that can’t be condoned. They come out such ruined human beings. It has essentially harmed them in such a substantial way they can’t ever return to the community or society.”

The Coldest Iron_Where Excuses Go to DieThe passage of California’s Prop 47 was important to me personally because of the smiley Nicaraguan we called “Hey,” to whom my book, Where Excuses Go to Die, is dedicated. Hey’s chapter is one I read a lot at book signings and other events, because even without shocking statistics it powerfully demonstrates how narrowly the public has been trained to recognize what prison and prisoners look like. Where Excuses Go to Die exists to defy that recognition. (more…)

Prison Visitor Hardball

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

As if California’s prison visitors didn’t have it demanding enough.

Process in and process out is what seeing daddy is all aboutIt goes without saying that, for family members, prison visits are psychologically and emotionally demanding. Just keeping up with background check requirements, approved visiting days, bureaucratic obstacles, and the distinct operational eccentricities of the facilities in which your loved one may be housed is an education in itself – a part-time job. And none of it applies to the wild-card of lockdowns or the myriad other things that can affect visitations, like visits being cut short due to overcrowding.

The experience itself is more akin to driving for four hours only to stand in line to deal with a speeding ticket for which you’d previously failed to appear. You get a strong sense that you’re only being grudgingly tolerated by authorities, who’ve lumped you in with the rest, with “those people.” And in fact you are literally penned in with other visitors awaiting approval and entry.

Such areas are always some variation of “Visitor Intake” or “Processing,” and they’re never short on militaristic signage and ALL CAPS ANXIOUSNESS. Depending on the facility and its administrator’s interpretation of departmental policy, waiting areas may be lined with hard wooden benches (the kind you could easily be handcuffed to), tattered airport seating, or flimsy plastic stackables. (more…)

On the Concerns of Others…

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

I'm feeling happiness for someone else? This never happens!Deny this ugly age of self mania; recognize the concerns of others.

Something I dislike about myself is that I’m occasionally caught off guard by my reaction to the concerns of others. I spend so much time pretending to care that when it’s real, my whole being awakens. And it doesn’t matter if my bureaucratic, rubber-stamping brain comes along or not.

Finding myself 100% unreservedly happy for someone else’s joy, for instance, makes me need to find a chair, fast; to think and relish the awareness before it fades. Sadly, I can only remember nine or ten instances in which I recognized the strange sensation of wanting to sing out-loud because something good happened to someone else.

It works the other way too, like it did with Big Wednesday, a well-fed, fifty-something homeless guy with sun-bleached dreads. I hadn’t seen him when I pulled into the gas station, but suddenly he was at my bumper. (more…)

FILE UNDER: Cosmetic Surgery Martyrdom

Friday, February 28th, 2014

The Narcissist Richter Scale doesn’t measure this far off the chart

Blondie Bennet Pic via TwitterBlondie Bennett, a long-obsessed Barbie weirdo from California, is using online hypnotherapy lessons to reduce what she’s being told is her IQ level in hopes of becoming less human, more doll-like, and –if it’s an option– “completely plastic.” She reports she’s “super happy” and that the sessions must be working since she’s becoming “forgetful and brainless.”

These sessions follow body alterations, facial do-overs, and breast enlargement surgeries that rival Lexus dealership up-sells. Bennett wears footwear made for a mule deer and her applied tan looks just like the one Mattel sprays on its signature toy.

She says she’s pleased to be achieving her goal (never mind that doing so may pose future challenges, like forgetting not to brush her teeth with gasoline; her online sugar daddies look out for her). The unemployed Bennett’s many procedures are funded in exchange for one-on-one time (yeesh), webcam antics, surgery footage, and pictures of Bennett wearing Barbie-inspired garments.

But don’t worry, Blondie doesn’t feel exploited. She told an interviewer, “When people ask why I want to be Barbie, I think, ‘Who wouldn’t want to be?’ She has the best life. All she does is shop and make herself look pretty. She doesn’t worry about anything.”

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